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Nukuʻalofa, TongaJanuary 10, 2023: 10am (UNDP): It was an extraordinary opportunity for citizens of Tonga’s two northernmost islands, Niuafo’ou and Niuatoputapu (the Niuas), the population of a little over 1,000 (in 2021) on the peaks of undersea volcanoes located in the middle of the South Pacific Ocean, to access a whole range of public services on their respective islands.

It was made possible when the Rights, Empowerment and Cohesion (REACH or A’u Tonu Kiai) project extended its mission to those remote islands, around 600 km north of the Tongan capital, from 21 – 28 November 2022.

The REACH project is implemented by the Ministry of Internal Affairs Women Affairs & Gender Equality Division in partnership with the UN Development Programme (UNDP) and supported by the Japanese government.

Citizens of the Niuas were able to access various services that all Tongan citizens are entitled to, including social welfare schemes, identity documentation and registration, vehicle, driving and marine licensing, women’s economic empowerment programme and more provided by 15 key service providers from government ministries, institutions and civil society organizations. 196 individuals from 18 villages in the two islands were able to access and obtain the services.

Solo of the Ombudasman’s Office serving a community member

An awareness raising session on the prevention of gender-based violence and delivery of support services available to survivors of violence was part of the REACH programme provided by Women Affairs & Gender Equality Division of the Ministry of Internal Affairs, Tonga National Center for Women & Children (TNCWC) and Women & Children Crisis Center (WCCC) among others. Communities of the Niuas for the first time marked the launch of the international campaign of the 16 days of activism against gender-based violence.

Honourable Member of Parliament Mr Vatau Hui, a representative of an electoral constituency Niua 17, welcomed the REACH mission team to the islands and said, “We are glad that you have not forgotten the people of the two Niuas. We hope you come more often.”

“I always said that you have not been to the Niuas unless you have travelled here by ferry, so that you experience the unique path to our islands – being transferred from the ferry to a smaller boat then arriving and hurdling onto the wharf, balancing yourself as you walk across the rugged rocky wharf and once you step down onto the ground, climbing up the slope to get on a vehicle,” said Mr Hui.

“Thank you for helping the people of the two Niuas. Toutou A’u Tonu Kiai (please visit us more often),” he added.

Tonga recently experienced adverse impact of multiple disasters, including COVID-19 which reached Tonga in 2020 and the Tropical Cyclone Harold concurrently hit the Kingdom.

The most recently people experienced destructive forces of the 2022 Hunga-Tonga Hunga-Ha’apai Volcanic Eruption and Tsunami.

As the country continues its efforts to ‘build forward better’, the REACH project, an integrated service delivery platform for rural, remote, and vulnerable communities, aims to respond to the needs of resilient people of Tonga to rebuild beyond recovery.

Since its commencement in March 2022 the REACH project has delivered services to communities in all divisions, Tongatapu, Ha’apai, ‘Eua, Vava’u and Niuas.

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